You may be a toxic partner by inadvertently causing hurt.

7 Ways You May Be Damaging Your Relationship, According To Experts

It’s time to retire the silent treatment.

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Do you feel like every single relationship you've been in has been toxic? No matter how beautifully things start, does the relationship become poisonous every time? It may just be that you are stuck in a pattern of picking the wrong people, and if that's the case, it's time to start doing the hard work of healing so that you break the cycle. But this repeated pattern of bad relationships may actually mean something else: You might be the problem. Often find yourself wondering, “Am I toxic?” According to experts, there are signs you’re the toxic one in your relationship, and recognizing those signs is the first step towards changing your behavior.

If you've avoided self-reflection before because you're worried about what you might discover, don’t. “Awareness is the first step in making any sort of change," author and relationship expert Susan Winter tells Elite Daily, "Once we’re able to be honest with ourselves and admit our shortcomings, then we’re one step closer to our recovery of wholeness and emotional health." Once you’re able to recognize your potentially hurtful behavior, then you can look forward to building healthy, happier relationships in the future.

According to Winter, here are some of the potential hurtful things you may be doing to your partners without even realizing it.

You Use The Silent Treatment

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While everyone needs space to cool off every once in a while, giving your partner the cold shoulder is not the way to get that space. As Laura Holtz, writer and advocate for domestic violence awareness, previously told Elite Daily, using the silent treatment can be damaging to both your relationship and your partner’s sense of worth. “This tactic, also known as withdrawal, is intended to swing the power pendulum toward the controlling partner by causing the victim, desperate for reconciliation, to grovel for forgiveness,” she explained. When you stonewall your partner, you create an unfair power imbalance that can’t easily be fixed.

According to Dr. Carolina Castaños, a clinical psychologist who specializes in marriage and family therapy, walking away or shutting down never solves a problem. “Slow down and think about what is really happening,” she suggested. “Ask yourself what made you upset. Maybe you felt insignificant or rejected, which means that your partner's love is important to you. Pushing them away will not help."

You Snoop Through Their Stuff

If you trust your partner, then you shouldn’t feel any need to read their texts or log onto their computer. Matchmaker and SpoonMeetSpoon owner Meredith Golden told Elite Daily that anyone who regularly finds themselves disrespecting their SO’s privacy is doing their relationship more harm than good. “Excessive snooping creates a toxic atmosphere of mistrust when sometimes there’s nothing warranting the behavior,” she said. “If there’s valid reason motivating the snooping, the relationship probably isn’t the relationship you should be in.” But if your partner has given you no reason to doubt them, then you probably want to take a look within.

As Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, previously told Elite Daily, the best way to build trust in your relationship is with open and honest communication, which means asking direct questions rather than looking for answers. "You mean what you say to your partner, even if it means hurting their feelings for the greater good of the relationship," she said. "Even though you may not like hearing the truth, knowing your partner is not lying or hiding anything, and means what they say, builds trust."

You Try To “Fix” Them

It's one thing to offer a partner advice on everything from their choices to their habits to their wardrobe, but this behavior becomes harmful if you expect them to treat every piece of advice you give like an order. "Needing to control our partner’s identity, actions, and thoughts is the opposite of love," says Winter. "It’s about safety. It’s a one-sided obsession to guarantee conformity, which equals safety. It has nothing to do with love or intimacy." Loving someone means accepting them just as they are, even if they don’t always do and say the things you would yourself.

Part of being a good partner is being open to the fact there's always room for improvement, both in your relationship and in yourselves. If you feel either you or your SO have room for growth, then try to initiate a conversation about how you can both change and grow, rather than just how they can change for you. “I encourage my clients to have a weekly talk where they discuss their relationship,” Chlipala said. “The goal is for the talk to be positive and how they can both improve to make their relationship better.”

You Pick Fights

It’s only natural to get annoyed with your partner now and then, especially if you’ve been together for a long time. But if often lash out by picking petty fights rather than addressing an issue head-on, this could be causing your relationship unnecessary stress. As intimacy coach Irene Fehr told Elite Daily, “It’s a passive-aggressive way to express how you feel, and it’s highly ineffective because the fight is never about the issue at hand, so the true source of discontent is never resolved, creating cycles of prolonged frustration and resentment.” Before you pick another fight, think about what’s truly making you upset and try to calmly address the issue at hand.

Learning to recognize internal cues can also help cool off before you lash out at a partner and potentially say something you don’t mean. As Chlipala previously suggested, “Focus on your thoughts (‘Here we go again’), your feelings and where you feel them in your body (like anxiety in the pit of your stomach or anger pressed against your chest), and your behaviors (pacing, clenching your fists, gritting your teeth) as you start to escalate or shut down.” Then you can take a minute to collect your thoughts before starting a needless argument.

Your Prioritize Your Own Needs

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How tuned into your partner’s wants and needs are you? Are you even aware of them? Are they a priority for you? If you answered no to those questions, Winter says you may be self-obsessed, a big factor in toxic relationships. "Individuals who are self-obsessed rarely realize it. They can’t," she says. "Their only focus is their life, their issues, and their wants. Discovering this truth about us can be jarring, but it’s an important beginning on the road to intimacy and true partnership." Yes, your needs matter, but in a relationship, your partner’s needs should matter just as much to you.

Practice gratitude and pay extra attention to the things your partner does to make life easier for you. As Dr. Castaños suggested, "Notice what your partner does as a way of expressing their love for you. Allow yourself to feel the love and appreciation, and let them know how you feel by saying thank you." And once you recognize all of the things they do for you, you’ll likely feel more motivated to do things for them in return.

You Tell Them How They Should Feel

Winter warns that another subtler form of toxicity is editing your partner’s emotions. "We have no right to tell them what they should feel," she says. "Doing so is indicative of control issues, and ones designed for our comfort." Constantly undermining and invalidating your partner's emotional responses is a form of gaslighting, which is when one person makes someone else doubt their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Your SO has a right to feel and react however they see fit, and when you tell them their reaction is wrong or inappropriate, you can force them to question their own reality.

Chlipala said it's essential to validate your partner's emotions, and if you don’t initially understand why they feel the way they do, then work on coming from an empathetic place. “Learn to understand and empathize with your partner’s experience. You don’t even have to agree!” she said. Her advice in this situation is to begin by asking questions like, “What is most important for me to know? What do you need? What are you concerned about? Is there anything else?”

You Use Tears To Get Your Way

When things in the relationship are not going your way, or you're on the losing end of an argument, do you use tears to tip the balance? Do you turn on the waterworks whenever you want your way? If so, that is not heathy — it’s straight-up manipulation. Winter explains that this is basically weaponized guilt: "They begin to feel guilty, and panic due to the flood of emotions ... This is an old trick, but make no mistake — it is a trick." There’s nothing wrong with shedding tears, of course, unless those tears only start rolling when things aren’t going your way.

Do many — or all — of these signs sound uncomfortably familiar? Then it’s time to take the next step and own that you might be part of the problem. Your next step, according to Winter, is to confirm what you suspect. "Ask your family, friends, and mate if they think you exhibit signs of being emotionally difficult,” she says. “This will be very hard to hear. To be fair to yourself, always consider the source. Listen only to those people you trust and who have your best interest at heart. If they say that they believe that you’re difficult, controlling, selfish, and manipulative, seek professional help."

It’s never easy to learn that we’ve been causing harm to our relationships and partners, but just recognizing your role is the first big step to a better and brighter romantic future. Sure, it will take work, but a healthy, emotionally fulfilling relationship is worth all the effort.


Susan Winter, author and relationship expert

Dr. Carolina Castaños, clinical psychologist

Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love

Laura Holtz, writer and advocate for domestic violence awareness

Meredith Golden, matchmaker and SpoonMeetSpoon owner

Irene Fehr, intimacy coach

Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.

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